¡Súbete al Progreso! : narratives of progress and social mobility surrounding the Santo Domingo Metro



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Transportation planning initiatives are assumed to further the development of growing cities across the globe. Latin American cities, especially, suffer from a deficit of infrastructure that presents greater challenges to the efficient movement of people and goods, which makes transportation one of the biggest hindrances to development in Latin America. Throughout the twentieth century, development projects in the Dominican Republic were carried out in the contexts of foreign military occupation and state repression, whereby processes of technical modernization arrived alongside state-led violence. Meanwhile, grandiose infrastructure projects were paired with narratives of national greatness. Decisions regarding land use and distribution of public services remained inattentive of the poorest residents, causing enormous inequalities in increasingly urbanized cities. President Leonel Fernández campaigned for his third term promising to break from old forms of corruption, and has symbolically delivered this promise of progress through the construction of a new subway system. The Santo Domingo Metro revolutionizes transportation options in key areas of a chaotic and congested road system, where many public transportation vehicles are old and dilapidated. Metro can save hours in commute times, provide safe, reliable transit at low cost, and promote sustainability. However, critics note that billions of dollars invested on Metro expansion preempt the funding of health and education. Construction processes displace neighborhoods, while many communities situated near the stations still face daily hardships associated with inadequate housing and lack of sanitation. My paper blends the perspectives of technical transportation planning and critical development theory to understand whether the Metro will serve these communities by improving their access to services, schools, and job sites, or simply drain scarce funds from these very areas. This paper also critically evaluates the way that the current administration‘s symbol of progress at times mirrors the top-down political culture of the past. The Metro thus elucidates larger theoretical and practical questions regarding the interactions of transportation planning and political culture, and their impacts on spatial hierarchies and growth within urban spaces.